Nepal’s Diplomacy under the Shadow of Divided Political Interest

By – Niyati Shrestha

If we trace the footsteps of Nepal’s diplomacy back in the day during the cold war, the Afro Asian Solidarity Conference 1955 in Bandung seems to be the turning point for Nepal in the international arena. The conference, where countries from Asia and Africa began to discuss their role in the cold war, gave Nepal the opportunity to analyse its own foreign policy and its position in the dichotomy. After that Nepal, without any foreign pressure adopted foreign policy of “non-alignment” sending a message that it would not be involved in either bloc. For Nepal, which had just been visible in the world after getting UN membership, economic assistance for a massive infrastructure development, especially roads was a number one priority. The focus was on economic diplomacy since it was the need of the country and the diplomats appointed then had a clear outlook on the country’s national interest. They used their platforms wisely to secure good relations with major countries like the U.S.A., USSR, India, China, etc along with financial assistance from them. 

However, King Mahendra’s Panchayat system did have a flaw; only elites having political and royal influence had access to better work opportunities and ranks in the society. This was reflected in the selection of diplomats too who had close ties with the palace. This trend of nepotism and favoritism seems to hold its roots in Nepali society even after the country faced a major political shift during the democratic movement of 1990. At present politicians from different political parties appoint diplomats that serve their personal interest. The problem does not end here, what politicians of today do not understand is that the world too has undergone some changes and it is not divided into two poles; many other actors have come into power play. The national interest of Nepal is not just limited to economic assistance for infrastructure development and Gautam Buddha International Airport is one fine example.

The newly built airport came into operation in May, but has been able to function well because Nepal has been unable to secure an alternative air route from the west of the country from the Indian government to land at the airport. Similarly, India has started building roads in the disputed areas of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh and Nepal has not been able to build a common framework to address these issues with India which clearly shows the lack of negotiation skills in diplomats appointed to represent our country. Moreover, the mixed opinions regarding the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant in ruling and opposition parties is a huge concern on its own. The grant is aimed at financing the improvements of major road networks and electricity transmission lines was perceived as a threat to our nationality by some political parties that created chaos among the general people. On one hand, such negative perception regarding U.S. grants has its consequences on the diplomatic ties between two countries; on other hand such divided interests among political parties might act as a loophole for foreign intervention in our domestic politics.

Regarding border disputes with China, the government led by K.P. Sharma Oli denied any disputes whereas a committee formed by Sher Bahadur Deuba when he later came into power found that China had been trespassing in the district of Humla. This clearly shows the proximity of two major parties of Nepal in different directions. Such inconsistent and immature behavior of politicians might put the country’s national security at threat. These politicians must come together and put collective benefits of the country over their personal benefits to protect the national interest of the country.